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The following report is about accessibility in websites and the measures adopted to implement accessibility. Since disabilities affects a large segment of the population it is mandated by law that websites be accessible. Also it makes good business sense to make sure that the market segment consisting of disabled people are also able to access your website and the website is getting good traffic from them. This is the reason why I have chosen to speak about the need for having accessible websites and have given amazon as an illustrative example.
World Wide Web has been conceived by its founders as a platform that enables users regardless of geographies, abilities, cultures to access information. Its defining feature is universality. Therefore it stands to reason that content accessibility should be one of the main criteria that web designers should maintain during design so that the website is not deemed off limits to those with disabilities and the web becomes truly universal.
A more inclusionary design principle that lay stress on accessibility and universality should be the basis for the practices and the methods of successful web design. Interaction design in website follow some common principles that make sure the website is user friendly and does the job of providing full information to the users.
Accessibility goes beyond usability and good design. It is brought about by following the guidelines laid down by w3c amongst others. These principles of accessibility should be considered during the design stage itself and web designers should concentrate not just on the layout and ease of use.
Accessibility is often thought to be the insertion of code in a webpage that makes the site work better with assistive technologies, such as adding alternative text to images, and so forth but it is much more than that. It means the degree to which disabled users are able to access information on a website as well as to conduct common tasks like making transaction, updating the information, do searches etc.
Accessibility can mean two things it can mean how compatible the websites is with devices used by disabled person for example hearing aids. Accessibility means to identify the tools that help a disabled person access the web and make full uses of it. It is also about incorporating the tools effectively into the website.
Importance of accessibility standards in web design
Disabilities in the UK population
Disability is very common amongst the general population. It is estimated that just in Britain about 10 million people can be classified as being disabled. (The Office for National Statistics, 2008)
In the UK about .3 % of the population are considered to be blind a further .7% of the population are classified as partially blind. Together those suffering from disability with regards to vision constitute 1 % of the population.
Deafness is very high with about 8 million reporting that they are either deaf or partially deaf. About 1.5 million people in the UK use hearing aids. Problems with mobility affect mainly the elderly with arthritis affecting 1 in 5 of the adults. BICPA (Being Inclusive in the Creative and Performing Arts)
The World Wide Web consortium has established a set of guidelines that websites should follow in order for them to be accessible to those with disabilities. It has now become mandatory for a lot of institutions that like universities for the websites to follow these guidelines.
Also in the United States section 508 of the federal rehabilitation act lays downs guidelines to be followed in order to meet the criteria of accessible websites. All this reason makes it incumbent on website to look at accessibility as a design consideration.
Current Research and Guidelines on Accessibility in web design
It is difficult for the blind and partially sighted to make full use of websites because in computer screens information is presented in a visual format. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative is an effort meant to increase the accessibility of web pages to disabled people like the blind and the deaf. The most recent version of the guidelines is WCAG 2.0, published in 2008.
There are 14 guidelines, each with three levels of checkpoints. The three levels reflects levels of accessibility for example priority one check points are those guidelines that the web developer should follow in order to ensure that the web page is accessible while priority three check points are those which make possible full accessibility of the entire website content.
There are four guiding principles of accessibility
Principle one is "Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive."
Principle two is "User interface components and navigation must be operable."
Principle three is "Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable."
Some of the 14 guidelines that have been laid down are as follows
Text Alts (Alternatives to Texts)
Text alternatives should be provided for non-text content like videos and flash imagination. The text should also be something that can be read using tools like braille or electronic devices like screen reader.
Alternatives should be provided for other media like audio (sign language) video (descriptions)
Do not depend on color alone
A number of users may be color blind. Therefore Content must not just use colors to communicate. Also the features like contrast should be there which helps to make the web page distinguishable. Overall the web site should be of such a design that the users can distinguish the objects more clearly.
The website must be navigable
Navigability is an important part of web accessibility. An accessible website will be one that is easily navigable. In such a website content must be easy to find and the website must not confuse the user.
Websites should be compatible with a number of assistive devices like screen readers, braille readers, audio aids etc.
Clarify natural language usage.
This can be done by providing tags like abbr (abbreviation). The language used should be specified in the main web page. Ensure that documents are clear and simple Avoid jargons or complicated languages in web pages. Keep the language simple.
Provide a link to alternative website
If it is not possible to implement the technologies in the main website provide an alternate website which is compatible with 3C technologies and guidelines.
Ensure that websites transform to new technology easily
The field of web development is constantly evolving and there is always new technologies and platforms being implemented. The website should be such that it transfers to new platform effortlessly. Older versions of the website should still work when technology changes, Also websites should work even when some features like java script are turned off.
Amazon is one of the biggest e- commerce platforms and has become the world's largest book store. Millions of users use to search and buy books, periodicals etc. It is a vast trove of information. It is therefore natural that the disabled people are also able to make full use of this website. Therefore making Amazon disabled friendly was considered as important for the overall company aim of making information accessible to more people. Amazon entered into an agreement with the National Federation of blind. And it has taken steps to make its website full accessible to the blind.
A number of measures have been adopted in Amazon in order to make the website more disabled friendly. Some of the measures are given below.
Kindle is an innovation by Amazon which has made a difference to thousands of disabled people. It is an electronic book reading device that provides users with the ability to access books and publications numbering in the millions.
It is a great tool for the casual reader and its main advantage is its portability and ease of use. It has been considered as inadequate for serving the purpose of more serious readers and researchers. Kindle is useful for people who have problems with mobility but it is not useful for the blind and it does not come with features like Braille. Never the less Kindle is a tool that has given accessibility to many people.
Diamond search is another method through which the Amazon website has enhanced its accessibility. The diamond search build on Ajax platform enhances the level of interaction and improves the usability as well as accessibility of interfaces. This accessible version of the search has been also been constructed in such a way that it can be used along with tools like screen reader and magnifier.
TTS is the feature used for reading books and other publications available on the Kindle store. In addition to books it is possible to read many newspaper, blogs, magazines etc. provided that the content is TTS enabled. It is valuable method through lots of content can be accessed.
Amazon has also constructed an accessible alternative website. This is in confirmation with the w3g guideline which states that if accessibility cannot be done on the main site then an alternative website should be provided with all the accessibility features enabled.
In fact Amazon has two alternative website. One text only website and another website for the blind people with less text and graphics; both the websites provide more accessibility.
The access site has fewer search results and helps a user to navigate easily as there is less clutter. This is the streamlined version of the text only site. Less clutter means that users can better use of tools like braille reader and other assistive tools. The alternative website has the same utility like the main website and helps users to search for items, look for customized products and buy those products.
Evaluating the Amazon website
E commerce platform Amazon has made important changes in order to make it more accessible to the disabled especially the blind. It is considered as one of most disabled friendly on line retailing sites. But there are still a number of areas in which the website can improve. Some of the improvements are given below.
Context directed Browsing Screen readers are used by the blind people to read contents on a web page. Screen-readers process Web pages sequentially. This means that it will go through a lot of useless information like ads and banner before it reaches the desired information. This process is time consuming for a reader. In order to reduce the time context directed browsing approach should be implemented in Amazon website. This will mean that screen readers will read only the most relevant sections.
Kindle is not useful for blind people. Steps should be taken to make it useful by giving features like braille.
The new Amazon accessibility website has been found wanting by many of the experts who say that it does not fulfill many of the basics requirements of the accessibility. The website can be improved by providing by providing more alternative text to images that appear on the websites or by labeling some of the input elements.
We live in the information age. Knowledge is seen as the source of power and wealth. The internet is a rich source of information and offers rich potential to people who are able to leverage it. It is incumbent upon the designers of the internet to make sure that the new architecture of the web is inclusive and even the disabled segment of the population is able to utilize the potential of the web.
The Amazon website is step in that direction and is an aim to make sure that websites are not off limits for blind and similar disabled people. By following the principles laid down in w3g and using new technologies it is possible to make the web truly accessible.